Friday, December 31, 2010

Another Year Over...

It's a new year. A time for beginnings, resolutions, hopes. Like everyone else, I've got things I want to do in 2011, because they didn’t get done this year. I've spent another year planning for the completion of my novel, the organization of my house, and a lot of other things. The novel and the organization aren't done. I could wallow in self-deprecation over that, but I guess that wouldn't be very productive. So in an effort to boost my morale and motivation, I think I'll try to figure out what I have managed to accomplish in 2010:

1. I continued to learn my mom's native language, and used it (with severe limitations) while visiting relatives this summer.

2. I contributed time to two volunteer sewing groups, making quilts and hats for those who need them.

3. I've blogged every week. Nothing earth-shattering, nothing that's going to put me on the map, but it's an exercise in continuity and consistency.

4. With the help of my critique group, I've edited and refined several chapters of my novel.

5. I've watched my grandkids grow as they participate in sports and music.

6. I've documented the year in my family scrapbook - it's been such a busy year, I've had to put all the pictures in two books!

Okay, I feel better now. There have been other things I've done, some not so productive (computer games and iphone apps come to mind), and I've lost and regained about twenty pounds. So I have work to do. But knowing that I made progress during this year makes it easier to make resolutions for next year. Instead of digging my way out of a hole, I'm preparing to take a few steps up. It's doable.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Tomorrow is Christmas Day. Tonight my husband and I will celebrate the holiday with all our children and grandchildren. It's a time we look forward to each year. The grandkids are growing up, and now we are awaiting a new family member. The circle of love grows larger.

It's work to prepare for these events, but I'm learning to use my resources to make the work lighter. I used facebook to find out what all the grandkids wanted, and then had some of them help me with the shopping. Since two of the girls are now drivers wanting gas money, they're willing to come over and help me clean the house, pack the stockings, and move the furniture around. When I get involved in all my projects, stuff piles up, and it’s a lot of work to put everything away.

I try not to let things bother me too much. Maybe that's why the mess keeps piling up. If I were organized enough to keep things clean, I wouldn't have to worry about cleaning up every time I have company. But then again, cleaning up is part of the preparation around here. And it brings my granddaughters over to help. That's worth something.

Holidays and family. What could be better?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Music

I had this post written, but forgot to post it last Friday! And I thought I was so prepared and organized. Here is what was supposed to appear last week:

Christmas is definitely here! We've got a nice tree up in the living room (it's a little small for my taste, but my husband is happy) and it's decorated, and there are wrapped presents under it. I've got Christmas cards done and sent, and I've got the cards we've received all displayed on the garland I've put up on the wall. I'm pretty well caught up on purchasing gifts. And there is Christmas music in the air - on the radio, carolers, and school Christmas programs! My seven grandkids are active in music programs, and three performances took place this week.

The first was Gabe, on Monday. He's in the high school band, and I enjoyed a night of good music played by talented teens. Gabe goes to school nearby and he had the support of lots of family members.

The next night it was Scottie, who plays in the middle schoool orchestra. He had two grandmothers, an uncle, a few cousins in addition to his parents and sister there to watch him. Three different groups - all very large - took the stage at the beautiful auditorium.

And last night was Karlie and Evelyn's night. They sang in their elementary school program at a local church. More great songs, sung with wonderful child-like energy and end sincerity. They had a huge following - lots of family members there to cheer them on.

I love the holidays, and I especially love holiday music. My training as a musician does kick in once in a while, but my love as a grandma takes over and it's all beautiful. It's a wonderful time of the year made even more wonderful when you're surrounded by family. The songs are full of joy and hope, and that's what the season is all about. Take the time to enjoy it.

Friday, December 10, 2010

More Fun at the Mall

This week it was Morgan’s turn to go birthday shopping with me. Morgan is a beautiful, intelligent, and motivated seventeen-year-old. Now that her older sister has moved out of the house, she is the eldest of the large brood, and I was anxious to see how she was coping with the responsibility. I enjoy hearing about her activities and her plans for the future.

As per our tradition, we went to her favorite restaurant – Olga’s. Morgan has her “usual”, but I like to try out one of their newer creations. We talk, we laugh, we eat. And then we shop. Like her sister, Morgan is very helpful. And being a typical teenager, she’s very knowledgeable about the mall. I had a list of gift cards to shop for, and she helped me find all the stores I needed. So now my Christmas shopping is nearly done!

I love birthday dinners and shopping time with my grandkids. Through our one-on-one times I learn about them, and I get the reassurance that all is well in their lives. I find out a little about what’s important to them, and I guess that’s important if I want to be writing about younger people. And there’s the advantage of knowing that the birthday gift I’ve purchased is one that they really want!

Life is good.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Birthday Treat

On Monday night I took my granddaughter Karlie out for her eleventh birthday. Karlie is the fourth child of five in her family. I'm not sure what that position says about her personality, but she's an interesting child, as all my grandkids are. Logan’s, her favorite restaurant, was really crowded, but we managed to get a seat after only fifteen minutes of waiting. And then we went to her favorite store in the mall, where she picked out a great new outfit, made more affordable thanks to a coupon I had received in the mail.

We had an interesting conversation. I love taking my grandkids out for their birthdays because we have a chance to talk one-on-one, and I can find out what's going on in their lives, and their perspectives on what's happening with them. In Karlie's case, she is one of several siblings. It would be easy for her to get lost in a group that large, but it doesn't seem like that's the case. She and her siblings are encouraged to pursue their interests. For Karlie, that includes her love of horses. When I went to pick her up, she was in the barn, grooming her horse.

While we were at the mall, Karlie helped me pick out Christmas presents for her younger sister and cousin. I noticed the way she took care to consider her sister's likes and dislikes as she helped me make the selections. She didn't just randomly select things; she had reasons behind the selections. That shows me she's a very thoughtful sister.

I’ve got a great family. Who could ask for more?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Out With the Old ...

It's fall, and it's time to change out the closets. This means that I have to take all the summer clothing out of the closets and drawers, store them properly, and take out the winter clothing. Stuff that doesn't fit any more is boxed up and taken to charities, given away to people who can use them, or thrown out. Sometimes there is a bit of alteration required. For some reason the waistbands tend to shrink over the summer.

I also tend to find "stuff" that has accumulated that we no longer need. Since I still teach part time, I find papers and magazines to be recycled, pencils and pens that no longer work, books ready to donate to library or writing group, and other things. It's a busy time.

My kids tell me that I hang on to things I no longer need. Maybe so, but I think a lot of the accumulation stems from the fact that my days are very busy and often I'm too tired to deal with the hassle of deciding what happens to each item. When I come home, it's all I can do to put on a pot of decaf coffee, sit down and unwind. It seems when I lie down, exhausted, my mind doesn't want to slow down and I can't sleep. So the next morning I wake up exhausted, and we start all over.

But twice a year I manage to make time to dig around and sort through as much as I can stand. I avoid it like the plague the rest of the year, but it’s a necessary evil. Sometimes I find things that remind me of happy times, and I relieve them a little, like the little bow and arrow set my daughter insisted on purchasing at the Renaissance Fair. Other times I shake my head and wonder what possessed me to spend my time and money on an item, like the striped sweater from Old Navy. Both are in boxes, ready to go to go somewhere else. I have one closet done, several more to go. I can do this.

Otherwise, where will I put all my new stuff?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mementos of a Life

Last week Thursday we buried my mother-in-law. She had been ill for a long time, suffering from Parkinson's as well as arthritis. The disease had progressed to the point where it affected her ability to do even the simplest tasks, and then finally her breathing and swallowing.

Her passing brought her relief from the pain, but it also left a hole in our lives. Last Saturday both of her sons and their wives met at her apartment to clean it out for the last time. We spent hours there, sorting through years and years of memories. There were pictures, journals, cards, newspaper clippings and other mementos of a long life. There were some things that had sentimental value only to her, and others that brought tears to our eyes. Earlier, the grandchildren had all been invited to come and take things that meant something to them, so that they could have something to remember their grandmother.

We each took things that meant something to us, shredded things like bank statements and checks, and bundled up other things to donate to charity. Being an avid scrapbooker, I'm interested in the photographs, but so are several others in the family. My brother-in-law decided to take the photos home, where he will scan them so everyone can have access to them. We took mom’s recipes, and one of our daughters has taken on the task of copying them for the many cousins who want them. The manager of the retirement home will distribute the rest of her belongings to people in the building who need them.

What will my kids find when I’m gone? If I were to die now, they would find lots of things that mean things to me, but are probably inconsequential to them. I’ve cut down on the books, and I clean out the clothes from my closets regularly, but there are a lot of craft items, scrapbooking supplies, and fabric that they would have no use for. I hope they would try to find a good home for them. The thought is depressing. Maybe I’d better hurry up and use things up so they won’t have to worry about it.

Rest in peace, HB. I’ll remember you whenever I eat jello or deviled eggs, see an owl or a cardinal, and use your cute little sewing basket. But most of all, I’ll remember that you raised a wonderful son, who became my husband and the father of my kids. For that I will always be grateful.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Human Taffy

I'm wondering how I can write this without sounding like I'm whining or complaining. But it's something that's on my mind a lot. And I need to write about it.

I'm at the point in my life where my kids are all grown and independent, and I’m free to worry about myself. Unfortunately, my mom is at the point in her life where she needs help – often. I've got grandkids I want to spend time with and hobbies I want to pursue, but mom needs me around. I'm feeling stressed and overworked. I'm pulled in several directions. Sorta like human taffy.

How do other women with burdens bigger than mine deal with this? How do they pace themselves, taking care of everyone else, and still have time and energy to take care of their own needs? I have a gym membership that hasn't been used in five months because I can't get there, or when I have time to go, I have no energy. People tell me that I would have more energy if I made time to go.

I can't cut the grandkids off. I need time with them. There's a new one coming in January and I need to have time for her. So I guess the only thing to do is cut some of the other extras out. Where do I start? I have two part-time jobs. One pays for groceries and gas, and the other one pays for extras, like vacations, gifts, and occasional splurges. I volunteer once a week by sewing – twice a month in a quilt guild, and twice a month in a group that makes hats for various charities. And I’m studying Japanese so that I can communicate with my relatives.

So I guess the first thing that should go would be Japanese class. And then if that doesn’t give me enough time, it would be the sewing groups.

Okay, so I’ve outlined a plan. I don’t like it, but it’s on the table. I guess now I need to sleep on it.

I hate major decisions.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Losing My Marbles

I am a bad grandma.

Last Tuesday I missed another of my grandkids' events! I was on facebook when I saw Scottie's post "My orchestra concert was good tonight." AAAAAAAAHHHHH! I even had the concert on the calendar! So that makes three things in two months. I missed Gabe's band concert, Morgan's Powder Puff game, and now Scottie's concert. I suck, as the kids would say. Why didn't I even look at the calendar? It was on both the phone and on the wall calendar. Mark's been really preoccupied with his mom, and I'm preoccupied with my mom, but I had nothing to do last night after my class. I could easily have made it there. I feel soooo bad.

I couldn’t figure out why I would be so unaware of commitments I had made. Up until a few years ago, before my kids could drive, I had to keep track of not only my schedule, but theirs – and we all usually got to where we were supposed to be. Could I really blame it on aging?

Anyway, I went online and found out when the next high school band concert is at Hudsonville, and the next orchestra concert is at Duncan Lake Middle School. And I have them both on the calendar. In bright red ink. I hope I remember to look at it.

Two of the three grandkids have forgiven me. I wonder what else I can do to remember these things?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Focus Weekends

Last weekend I spent two and a half days at a bed and breakfast with fifteen other writers. We all brought our laptops and lots of food, and spent the weekend doing what is sometimes difficult in our hectic lives – writing. Most of us got a lot done. I love weekends like that. Scrapbooking weekends are also great fun – you spend the time with other people who are working on the same type of thing, you share stories about your lives, you share ideas, and sometimes supplies, and you make progress on your projects.

It seems that weekends centered on a single endeavor seem to make visible results. So I thought maybe I should set up all my weekends that way. Even if I’m at home, I can declare it to be the time for one of my interests. Here's a possible schedule:

Weekend #1: Writing. I do nothing but write, eat and sleep. Whenever I sit down at my laptop I need to add at least one page to one of my manuscripts. Since my laptop is open all the time, the word count should increase greatly.

Weekend #2: Scrapbooking. I can set up my 6 foot folding table in an extra room and put out my scrapbooking projects on it. And whenever I get up from working on my computer, I can sit down and work on my scrapbooks.

Weekend #3: Sewing. On the same 6 foot table, I set up my sewing machine and/or serger. I use the kitchen table to cut fabric, and then I sew, sew, sew. The grandbaby will be here before I know it, and he/she will need clothes, bibs, blankets, etc. Gotta get going on all those.

Weekend #4: Cleaning. This is the one I hate the most, so I'm saving it for last. The 6 foot table gets folded up, the laptop is closed except for doing necessary school work and I get busy organizing some area of the house. My kids have threatened to put me on "Hoarding: Buried Alive" if I don't get things put away, given away, or used up. I'd rather use it up, so I need to get a lot done on Weekend #3 in order to make progress during Weekend #4.

I think maybe I'll give this a try starting next month. That gives me the week to get things set up. I can't be too rigid on this, of course, because family obligations come first. But maybe if I limit my focus on weekends, I can get some more progress done on things.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Time to Get to Work!

Enough is enough.

I have been slogging away at this manuscript for over five years, and it is still not finished. So I now have a new writing goal. I will finish this novel by Christmas. I will write the words “the end” and move on to another project. I’ve got several choices, thanks to my writing group. And I will finish a second project by March 31. I will finish a third project by June 30.

In July I will go to New York City to attend the National Convention of the Romance Writers of America, where I will suck in my pride and pitch these novels to agents and editors. And hopefully I will get somewhere. I need to turn this “hobby” into a bigger, more vital part of my life. If I want to be a writer, I have to write. And I have to write things that people will read.

I will keep my daily musings in my 750 Words a Day rantings, and I will post my innermost thoughts about the creative process here on my blog, but I need to get my books done so I can find out if my stories are any good. Maybe I’ll be disappointed and won’t get anywhere, but I have to try.

And if nothing else, I’ll get a chance to visit the Big Apple.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Family Time

I'm so excited for tonight. Both of my girls are going to scrapbook with me! A neighbor who has her basement set up just for scrapbooking is letting us come over and use her tables and will have her supplies ready for us to purchase, and her supplies there to use. The three of us have all had great adventures this year - Mandy and I have pictures of our trip to Japan, and Robyn has some from her trip to the west coast, touring national parks. We want to preserve them. And so we will spend time arranging these photos in albums to keep them safe and so that we can pull them out and remember these times. We can share them with others.

Like every mom, I cherished the time when they were small and looked to me for all their needs. As they got older, they needed me less and less, and although life got a little bit easier, it was hard to let go. When the children become adults, they go off and lead their own lives, and I was a little bit heartbroken. They're no longer my little girls. I can't dress them in pretty, frilly dresses. I can't wipe their pudgy cheeks when they get into their dinners and get half of it on themselves. And I can't be there to hold them every time they get an "owie".

But they're still my girls. I am so thankful that they both still want to do things with me. Last weekend the three of us explored Art Prize in downtown Grand Rapids. And this weekend we'll work on our pictures together. Later this weekend, they plan to go with their father to visit their grandmother in her new digs at the nursing home. They're good kids, and we look forward to watching them become amazing adults.

We must have done something right. Hallelujah.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Amy's Adventure

Our eldest daughter has been in Haiti this week. She's been assisting a medical team in Port-Au-Prince, which was devastated not only by the earthquakes, but a tornado this fall. She left last week Friday, and tonight her husband and children will meet her at the airport to welcome her back.

Before she went, she directed us to a blog started by Mallery Thurlow, the founder of the Haiti Foundation Against Poverty. You can check it out here. It's very informative. This woman is doing a lot to help the people there. Mallery also has a website, (click here) where monetary donations can be arranged.

Thanks to technology (she texted her husband daily, and her husband posted her updates on facebook), we're able to get regular updates about the things she is encountering on her trip. Some of her stories are so sad - mothers handing their babies to her and begging her to take them to America for a better life, young moms dying in childbirth, school children eager for a friendly, nurturing hand. It's so hard to believe that things like this are happening so close to home.

We've been so afraid for her. She’s been there in a place where there is so much need, and desperate people sometimes do desperate things. She was only six when I married her dad, and sometimes I have difficulty replacing the pigtailed urchin with the amazing woman she is now. But she needed to do this, and I could only pray for her safety and listen for the reports, and rejoice when she comes home.

And I am so thankful for people like her, who are do-ers, rather than worry-ers.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


I lead a pretty busy life, and when I'm home I usually have a "to do" list going. A lot of my "to do''s involve sitting down in front of a computer screen. Since I don't have an office, this takes place in my family room, either sititng in my recliner with my lap desk, or at the dining room table. This works well when the other person in my house is asleep for the night, but when he's awake the television is on (or the radio, and he loves talk radio).

So sometimes I'll sit here with the computer in front of me, and the words don't come. It's not that I want to watch or listen to what's on, but it's there, and sometimes it's interesting. Of course, I tend to think a lot of things are interesting. So the words don't get written. Or sometimes things get written and they don't make sense. For example, right now the news is on. My fingers are actually moving across the keyboard, but I can see that a lot of words are misspelled.

In the past I've come up with various strategies for dealing with these problems.

Solution #1: Leave the room. I have a nice three season porch, and when it's light enough to write out there, and it's warm enough (or cool enough) to stand it out there, I can go out and work there. The down side is hubby gets frustrated. He apparently gets lonely because I'm gone so much and he pouts. He offers to turn off the television (grumpily, which lays the guilt trip on me).

Solution #2: Wear earphones. This works especially when the Dear Husband is watching a show I don't particularly like, such as one of those mindless sitcoms he's so fond of. Unfortunately, I can still hear a little bit, and when he's watching something minutely interesting, it doesn't help, unless I turn on the itunes loud enough to overpower it.

Solution #3: Wait to write until after hubby goes to bed. That's at around 6:30 or 7:00 pm, so it's not too bad. Unfortunately, I've been working the 4 AM shift, so I need to go to bed not long after that. By 6:30 or 7 pm my brain is starting to shut down.

Solution #4: Get everything else done in the hopes that someday things will change. I suppose that's what I usually do. Fortunately, I belong to a great writing group. We have two weekends a year set aside for writing. We go away for the weekend. Close enough that it's not too far a drive, but far enough that we can't run home to take care of minor problems. It's great. We all bring our laptops and just write. Those of us who don't particularly want to socialize bring earphones. I'm one of them. The problem? This only happens twice a year. It's not going to happen for another four weeks. I can't write only two times a year! So I've got to keep remembering to use these solutions (maybe on a rotating basis?) so that I can get some writing done! I can do it! I've got a novel to write!

Friday, September 24, 2010

All Grown Up

I had lunch with my eldest granddaughter last weekend. We went out to celebrate her nineteenth birthday. Lauren is a recent high school graduate, and is going to school to learn to be a medical assistant. She has her own car, so she was able to get herself to my house rather than me picking her up. She's growing up.

Lauren has a boyfriend - rather, she has a fiance. She and Cody have been an item for almost a year. He is in the National Guard, and he's been in basic training for a few months. And when Lauren went to visit him last weekend, she came home with a ring. They plan to get married - soon.

Since I'm only the step-grandma, I don't feel I have the right to voice my opinions to her. My husband and I feel they are both way too young for this step. My husband speaks from experience. She needs to have more life experiences.

My husband expressed his concerns one afternoon when our daughter was here. She asked if he had shared his concerns with the future bride. “No,” he responded, “It’s not our place.”

I guess I've got to agree. The young man is in the military. He graduated from a Christian school, so he's been taught good values. He seems to be a good kid. But still, he's very young. They both are. But it is not up to us. All we can do is be there for her. We need to support her decision, and celebrate with her. Maybe it will work out. We have to respect her decision, and support them as a couple. We need to have listening ears and an open heart.

That’s what families are for.

Friday, September 17, 2010

750 Words

I have a tendency to take on more than I'm able to accomplish. That's one of the reasons for the piles of “stuff” in several rooms. I look at a piece of fabric and think of something wonderful that I can make with it - and then it's set aside because I have more pressing commitments. My gym membership hasn't been used in three months, and I have a wii fit collecting dust and a stack of exercise videos. And I have a cupboard full of non-sugar sweeteners, weight loss powders, and vitamins.

But one thing I took on this summer has actually worked out. I love to write, but have had problems making myself sit down to write because I have all this other stuff to do. My writers' group asks for monthly goals and rewards us for meeting them. So I would often set a ridiculously low goal, like "100 words a day" so I could be sure and sit down every day and write something.

A writing friend shared a website with me that has really helped jump-start my creativity, at least as far as writing. It's called "750 Words" and it's changed my mind-set on putting words down. Every day, a blank page is presented to me and I am encouraged to write - anything. It's a personal, online journal. No one else can read what I write, so I can put drivel - and sometimes it has been utter nonsense.

Some days the blank page is filled with things I copy and paste into writing projects. I've written my blog posts here, as well as my "to do" lists, and lots of other things, like thank you notes to the relatives, and plans for the coming week. In Japan I used it to journal each day, so I wouldn't forget names of people and places. Just writing events and names down here helped me when I wrote facebook captions for my pictures, and later I’ll have them to write in my scrapbook. I love it!

Buster, the creator of 750 Words, has several incentives to keep you going. There are "badges" to reward you for various goals- a certain number of days, speedy writing, patronage, etc. This is all available absolutely free of charge!

It's amazing how integrated this exercise is in my life. My husband even knows when to not speak to me. If I just tell him "I'm writing my 750" he knows he needs to keep away until I'm done! Often I'll stay up and write at midnight for the coming day. But other times I'll get up early and write. It's just become a necessary part of each day, like taking vitamins!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Happy News

My husband and I are going to be grandparents. We already have seven grandchildren, but this one has several distinctions that guarantee he or she will be spoiled rotten:

1. This is the first child of a child we had together. This means it is also the first great grandchild for my mom, who is a bona-fide child spoiler - when the child is not her own.

2. This is the first grandchild to be born to a pair of working parents, which means this grandma will be called upon to baby-sit more often. Thankfully, the family lives less than a half-hour drive away.

3. This grandchild has a whole slew of Japanese relatives, who are curious to see whether this child will have blue eyes (a very curious event in their world).

4. This is the first grandchild to be born after my retirement, which means I have more time to make stuff for him/her.

It's this last criteria that I'm hoping will help me clear out some stuff. I have a ton of fabric and other craft stuff patiently waiting for me to work on it. Obviously there will be quilts. This child will be born in January, but will NEVER be cold - because I will personally see to it there are plenty of quilts and blankets around!

I've also got patterns for nighties and jammies and there is lots of flannel down there. The child will sleep in the finest of stuff, if I manage to get the outfits cut out and sewn together.

And there will be toys - lots of them - stuffed teddy bears, and a whole menagerie of animals. I’ll probably buy more than I’ll make, but I’ll have fun planning my projects.

Now all I have to do is find out whether it's a boy or a girl, and what colors his/her mother plans to use in the nursery. My daughter is a very particular decorator. Things will have to match. So I might have to get some more fabric to match the planned d├ęcor.

I can’t wait.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Back to School Shopping

So it's the first week of school for me. Classes started this week at GVSU. I got ready as most people do. As an instructor I got my copies ordered, my PowerPoint presentations ready and my class lists compiled for attendance. As a student, I got my bag filled with notepaper, and pencils, and I checked the class website for the required textbooks. Unfortunately, both bookstores are out of one book, and the other one hasn't been published yet! So I wait. I’m in third year Japanese this year, and I’m excited to see if my three weeks in Japan will help give me an edge. Probably not.

As an "unconventional student" (read: older) I have a few other items on my back-to-school shopping list that my younger classmates don't have:

- a seat cushion. Sitting for fifty minutes on a hard plastic molded chair is murder on my back. I always carry a special seat cushion that has a cutout for my tailbone. It makes life much easier. Of course, getting up out of the chair after fifty minutes is still a challenge ...

- orthodics. These aging feet have walked a lot more miles than those of my cohorts, and they're carrying around a bit more weight. They need help. I’m not quite at the walker stage yet, thank you very much, but the muscles occasionally complain.

- a recorder. I found out there’s one on my laptop! Technology is wonderful. My memory isn't what it used to be, and I can't write or type fast enough to detail EVERYTHING the prof says. Besides, he talks really fast.

So I have a few extra things in my bag. That’s okay. I’ve got a few extra years of life experience on my classmates. And I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Joy of a Good Book

I love to read. I don't do it nearly as often as I would like, because I have so many hobbies, in addition to the stuff that I SHOULD do (cleaning, etc). But I keep up with several "favorite authors", and when I see one of them has a new book out, I immediately put in a request for it at my local library.

The other day I received an e-mail notice that three books I had requested were ready for pickup at the library. As soon as I got out of work I went and picked them up. I decided which book to start with, and sat down to read.

And then I started to feel guilty.

Guilt is a strange thing. It creeps up on you when you least expect or want it. It makes sense when I'm doing something like putting a grocery store item I don't want in a spot other than where I got it. It makes sense when I tell a little fib, like "Yes, mom, I remembered to stop at your house and check things while you were in Florida."

But feeling guilty about reading? I spent twenty-eight years teaching young kids, encouraging, cajoling, BEGGING them to read. Why would reading bring on feelings of "I shouldn't be doing this"?

It's simple. I'm a mom. In the last twenty-six years I have been conditioned to spend every waking moment taking care of everyone and everything else. Reading is something I do WHILE I'm doing something else - eating, waiting at the doctor's office, or visiting the restroom. Television watching is in the same category. When I watch TV I often have a craft project handy (knitting, cross stitching, or scrapbooking) or I'll be doing something domestic, like folding laundry, ironing, or paying bills.

So sitting down to read, and do nothing else, tends to fall in the realm of "wasting time". My Conscience tells me I should be straightening out my piles of fabric, or dusting off the knickknacks in the living room. Sometimes I tell my Conscience, "Just fifteen minutes, and then I'll get to work." And the fifteen minutes stretches to three hours. Oops.

I think that's why these are my favorite authors. They have the ability to create worlds in which I can lose myself, forgetting - momentarily - the world in which I live. For those hours, I'm wrapped in the lives and the conflicts of someone else. My own problems and concerns fade away. Until I close the book and realize I've lost an entire afternoon or evening.

But doggone it, the kids are fine and don't need me to take care of them. My husband can take care of himself. So taking a few hours a day for myself should NOT make me feel guilty!

Now if only I can convince my Conscience to leave me alone so I can read.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Home, Sweet Home

I got back from Japan this week. We flew from Tokyo to Toronto on Tuesday, and then from Toronto to Michigan on Wednesday morning. The overnight layover wasn't our prime choice, but it turned out to be a fortunate one because our first flight was delayed five hours! So the overnight layover was a good thing. We had a bit more time to adjust to the time change, as well as the culture change.

After three weeks in a fast-paced, crowded society, we were immediately struck by the open spaces much more common here. Houses have yards. The streets are wide enough for cars to pass without fear of losing a side mirror. And rooms in houses are much, much larger.

I am now able to get places in the comfort of my own air-conditioned car, rather than walking, riding a bike, getting on a bus or train, or a combination of the four. I can throw a week's worth of dirty clothes in my washing machine and dryer, rather than washing every morning and hanging clothes outside to dry. And I can store several days' food in my nice big refrigerator, rather than going out daily to buy groceries.

In general, life here tends to be much more convenient. Does that make it better? Not necessarily. According to the World Health Organization, Japan has an obesity rate of less than five percent. Lifestyle has much to do with this. Since I don't have to work at hard as my cousins, I don't work off as much of the food I eat. And since the food I eat isn't as fresh and healthy as their diet, I am a lot bigger than they are.

So what do I do? Do I just shrug and continue my sedentary lifestyle, while commiserating with my overworked Japanese counterparts? Do I begin a stringent diet and exercise regimen in an effort to align myself with the more slender members of my family?

I'm thinking a compromise between the two would be best for me. My doctor keeps telling me I need to exercise more. And it would be nice to wear clothing a size or two smaller. I lost twenty pounds earlier this year, so maybe it's time I lost another twenty. Or forty.

Sigh. Maybe I should ponder this dilemma over a bagel and a cup of cappuccino.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Regret, or Rejoice?

I’m writing this in July, but hopefully this is appearing during week three of my trip.

I'm probably winding down, getting ready for the trip home. And if this trip is going the way things usually go, there are probably some regrets. One regret going into the trip is that I didn't review my Japanese language lessons at all, so communication is a problem. Poor mom. Here are some others:

1. I probably bought something I shouldn't have, or haven't bought something I should have.

2. I'm sure I forgot to thank someone for something they've done for me.

3. I should have gotten up an hour earlier or stayed up an hour later each day so I could experience one more thing.

4. I should have been saving up sooner so I could have come more often and built a relationship with my cousins.

That's enough of the negative. How about some plusses?

1. I've got a wonderful warm family on both sides of the world.

2. I've got my health and can get around fairly well, so there's no reason I can't come again.

3. I'm enjoying this experience with my mom and my daughter and son-in-law. How great is that?

4. If I didn't have something to learn, life would be boring. I'm having so much fun learning about my extended family and their way of life.

As with most things, the good far outweighs the bad. So I should just ignore the regrets and be thankful this trip has happened at all.

If only this place weren't so far away.

Friday, August 6, 2010

My Addiction

This post is set to appear while I’m in week two of my trip. This time I thought I’d explore my total addiction to the internet.

Here at home I'm spoiled. I have a DSL connection in my home so I can simply open up my laptop and "get connected" to my e-mail, facebook and so many other sources. But when I travel I won't be able to get online every day. I kept looking for a place to go online in my aunt’s home city, like an internet cafe, but either the places aren't listed on English language sites, or there aren't any in the area. I checked into using my phone but it's going to cost too much to get an international data plan. So it looks like my internet access is going to be extremely limited, if I'm able to get on at all. And that gives me a certain level of apprehension.

There are a few "wi-fi hot spots" nearby (at least the website says they're close by) where I can get online. I haven't been able to find out if it's free or if there's an hourly fee. And I don't know if there will be a lot of time in the three weeks to go and search out these places or if I'll have my days filled. I have a feeling there will be a lot of down time, but I don't know how brave I will be about going about on my own. I really can't depend so much on mom to take me around. At age seventy-six, she's doing well just to go on this trip.

So I have a couple of options. I can make it a priority to get over my timidity and take a proactive approach to seeking out the wi-fi areas near Chigasaki, Japan, or I can resign myself to being totally out of the loop for three weeks. With the first option I'll be able to keep in touch with life back home, share my photos with friends, and read news in English. With the second option I'll have more time to visit with my family and practice my Japanese.

I have a feeling the second one will probably win out. Traveling halfway around the world just to get online and constantly check on things back here doesn't really make sense.

But if I get an opportunity to get online, I'll take it.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Making Choices

If I’ve done this right, I have managed to pre-post this blog. That is, I wrote this ahead of time, uploaded it before I want it to appear online and programmed it to show up on a specific date. Since I’ll be gone for three weeks I asked my writing friend (a prolific author and internet whiz) how to pre-post. She responded almost immediately with easy-to-follow instructions. So now I can continue my tradition of blogging every Friday even when I don’t have internet access!

Last Saturday I went to a wedding. A co-worker got married, and several of us attended the ceremony at a local park. The day started out with a bang - literally. I woke up to thunderstorms crashing around. I felt so bad for the bride. I had never been to an outdoor wedding and rain is the worst nightmare. The weather forecast was for storms all day long. But fortunately, the rain stopped in time for the wedding. By that time the chairs had all been moved indoors, but the rustic atmosphere of the building was charming.

Later on my daughter served as my "date" to the reception at a great restaurant downtown. The food was phenomenal, the decor was beautiful and after a slow start, the dancing began. What a great time!

As an avid crafter, the thing that impressed me most about this wedding was the number of things the bride created herself. Each flower in her bouquet, as well as those carried by the bridesmaids and flower girls, was handmade from tissue - but they looked so real no one could tell without looking closely - REALLY closely. Look again at the picture above. Could you tell they were tissue flowers? All the table centerpieces were hand-painted and filled with pictures of Michigan lighthouses. Little rocks surrounding the centerpieces were each inscribed with a drawing or wedding-related word.

The invitations were designed and printed using a home computer. Cupcakes were served (I'm assuming they were baked by either the bride or the groom since they’re both culinary school graduates). A styrofoam cake (another example of the bride’s creativity) was on display for the traditional "cutting the cake" photo opportunity. Each guest received a jar of homemade jam provided by the bride's mother.

Weddings are expensive. There's no getting around the fact. We've already married off several children, so we know. But they don't have to be extravagant. This couple decided what was important to them, and made it happen by being smart. They put in time doing some things themselves so that they could afford to pay for other niceties.

I guess this is a life lesson we've all had to take heart from time to time. We cut back on some things so that we can have the things that are important to us. I'm here on a wonderful trip on the other side of the world because I did without some other non-essentials.

Now, if only some of our world leaders would take hold of that notion, we’d be in less trouble.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Next Great Adventure

I've lived long enough to have had lots of major milestones and turning points. I'm lucky in that the vast majority of them have turned out well for me. I had a good education, a great marriage, fantastic children, a challenging career, and now a busy retirement. And one of the benefits of being "retired" - I use the term loosely, since those of you who know me have seen that I'm busier than ever - is that I have the flexibility to travel. Since retiring from my full-time teaching job five years ago, I've been to London, Mexico, and Greece, as well as various attractions in the United States. And next Tuesday I leave for Japan.

I've been to Japan. I was actually born there, but since I was only a year old when we moved to America I have no memories of that time. I went with my mom twenty-five years ago, along with my toddler daughter. It was wonderful to introduce her to my grandmother. They had a great time playing together, and I had a good time with my cousins.

So now I'm going again. I'm excited. A little nervous, but mostly excited. This time I have a little bit of background. One, I've been there. Two, I've got two years of Japanese language instruction behind me. Three, the internet and travel guides have endless amounts of information and I can get answers to most questions with a few clicks of the mouse.

There are a few worries, of course. One, there's always a risk in traveling. Two, I'm going with mom again, and international travel can be a challenge when you're seventy-six years old. Three, though I can get the gist of a conversation in Japanese, I'm in no way fluent - and the kanji is still a mystery to me so I can't read signs (which makes me look like an idiot). And four, my daughter and her husband will join us - and they speak and read even less Japanese than I do!

Whenever I'm excited about a new undertaking, I don't sleep. I imagine I'm not going to sleep much for the next few days. There are endless details to see to. Hopefully none will be major. All I can do is dive in and trust God to make this a relatively smooth adventure.

He's never let me down before.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Picnic Pops

An annual summer tradition in the Grand Rapids area is the Picnic Pops Concerts at the Cannonsburg Ski Area. The Grand Rapids Symphony puts on eight concerts each summer on Thursdays and Fridays in a large stage at the bottom of a hill. Concertgoers bring picnic lunches and spread out on the hill to watch and listen. Sometimes they have guest artists, and sometimes they have other special things going, such as the fireworks concerts last week. This week it's a swing group called Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, next week it’s a Motown inspired group, and the following week it’s a “Tribute to the Beatles”.

The corps of symphony volunteers is there to provide many services - some work in the ticket office, others serve as ticket takers, or parking attendants. Others assist the concert goers by driving carts, or helping them carry their picnic items. My mom and dad always worked in the kitchen, which feeds the volunteers. After dad died, I took over his shift.

Working in the kitchen, I see all the volunteers as they come in from the hot sun to get something to eat. There are people from all walks of life. Former businessmen, educators, factory workers as well as high school and college students all work side by side. There are entire families who come and volunteer - what a great way to teach children about the meaning of charity!

Annamarie Buller is the volunteer coordinator for the Grand Rapids Symphony. She has the job of contacting the hundreds of people who work each summer, assigning them to their various jobs on eight different nights, seeing to their needs, and in turn seeing that their work takes care of the patrons' needs. She does all this with a cheerful smile and a great memory, greeting people by name and thanking them even when it would be so easy to growl at their seemingly endless complaints.

The Grand Rapids Symphony, like all organizations, depends on its volunteers to avoid the cost of paying for many of the services associated with putting on a performance. They can always use more hands. Volunteering with the symphony reaps more than a few rewards. Among them: working with a great group of people (you tend to see a lot of the same people from event to event), the satisfaction of helping a worthwhile organization to grow and continue, AND the opportunity to hear great music at a fraction of the ticket price! And if you volunteer at the Picnic Pops, you even get dinner!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Organization of My Mess, Part Two

So I think I have most of my daughter's stuff out of the one room. It's stacked in the living room, since she hasn't been here. She'll probably tell me to toss it all. I'll have to deal with that when the time comes - or maybe bring it to Goodwill. I even got ambitious and emptied her stuff out of the bathroom. I came up with all kinds of makeup, which she told me to toss, and a bunch of medications, which I tossed right away. I now have lots of drawer space in the bathroom!

Now I have to organize my own stuff. I have a bunch of scrapbooking stuff. That will go in the large file cabinet in the other bedroom. Now I have all kinds of fabric to sort. Most of that should probably go in the basement, in the large vertical files. But it's so nice to have it handy when I have the chance to work on it!

I've got some really pretty fabric that will make nice skirts. Last week I got a pattern I'd like to use to make the skirts with. And I've got some pretty Asian-inspired fabric to use for quilting. And there's a bunch of heavy-duty canvas that I started making tote bags with. But I've had to put my sewing and crafting on hold while I attempt to organize. By the time I’m done I’ll either forget about my skirt and bag and quilt projects, or I won’t know where I put them. And that makes me unhappy.

But in order to make my children happy, and keep them away from my stuff, I have to be unhappy and organize it. I guess that’s the way it goes. They seem to think if it’s organized, I’ll be happier. Okay, maybe eventually. I just hope they let me keep my laptop out.

Maybe I’ll hide it in one of the bathroom drawers I just emptied out.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Happy Birthday to Creative Hodgepodge


This weekend I am celebrating three birthdays.

Sunday is America's two hundred and thirty-fourth birthday. I'm going to celebrate with my extended family tomorrow, and on Sunday I'll play in a concert band at a community fireworks celebration. I'm very thankful to be an American.

Another birthday to celebrate is my own. Fifty-five years ago my parents began putting up with me. Thankfully they decided to keep me!

The third birthday is for this blog. My first post was uploaded on July 3, 2009. So "Creative Hodgepodge" is one year old tomorrow. I have faithfully recorded my thoughts on a regular basis for one year. I don't think I ever wrote this regularly in a diary or journal.

I started the blog as a means of being accountable. I have several writing projects and I wasn't making much progress on them. Somewhere I read that writing anything, including a blog, would stimulate my writing creativity. So I started writing. And writing.

I also have all these craft supplies and ideas for projects. I needed to get going on them. So I put in writing, on a blog where anyone could read it, that I in addition to writing, I would spend an hour a day working on something creative (non-writing). That worked well until school started that fall. After that my sewing and crafting was much more sporadic. Later on I added a health goal (i.e, losing weight) since my doctor told me I needed to. I lost 20 pounds, got a clean bill of health from the doctor, and pretty much gave up on that. I love to eat!

Has the blog been successful in helping me reach my goals? I've added a whole lot of words to my samurai story, but I haven't finished it - not totally. I wrote 40K on a new story (the sequel to the first one). I've sent in several submissions to Chicken Soup. None have been accepted. I've written a lot about my family. I've written a lot about myself. One of my friends says my writing has gotten more "direct" - that's a good thing. As for the other goals, I've finished a lot of craft, sewing, knitting, and crocheting projects. I'm trying to use up what I've got - I even resisted buying a lot of scrapbooking paper last week, even though it was forty percent off!

So all in all, I guess the blog has paid off. I’ve still got stories to write, and several rooms full of crafting supplies. So I guess I’d better wrap up this post and get to work!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Plan

There is a pile of boxes in my living room. They are filled with filled with "stuff". I'm trying to keep them fairly organized: one is full of bathroom items, another with figurines, several smaller ones have books in them and a few have clothing. No, I'm not moving, and no, I'm not taking them to Goodwill. At least, not yet.

The boxes are filled with things that belong to my children. Last weekend they informed me that I was living like a slob and they were going to put me on a show like "Hoarding: Buried Alive" or "Project Organization" or something like that. Apparently they're worried about all the things in the bedrooms that are put there whenever we have company. They admonish me and tell me I need to get myself organized. It bothers me when they do that.

I actually think I AM organized. It's just that I have a lot of stuff and not enough places to put them. And I’m busy working so I’ll have money to do the things I want to do. When I take the time to clean, I don’t have time for my hobbies. But I suppose stuff has to go. So I have a plan. I am going to pack up everything that doesn't belong to me. I will put everything that belongs to a daughter and put it all in boxes. The boxes will either be taken to their respective homes, or to Goodwill.

I began to work this plan this week. I started with the bathroom - in no time, a huge box was filled with curling irons, brushes, lotions, perfumes and makeup. Then I went to the dresser in what I now use as my sewing room. I filled another box with journals, hair accessories, and more makeup. During my husband's favorite tv show (which I can't stand), I filled a box with books. And now there are a half dozen boxes in the living room, ready to be moved either to another house, or to a charity.

Hopefully this trend will continue. Maybe when my stuff is organized my kids will allow me to create in peace. More later.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Happy Father's Day

I’ve written a lot about my own father, so for this Father’s Day I decided to write about the dad in our house, the father of my children. He's a loving dad, but slightly unconventional. He’s the father of five, and grandfather to seven.

When our kids were small, he helped out a little - within certain parameters, because he doesn't like to get outside his comfort zone. Once they got to the point where they could talk and use the bathroom, he was more at ease. He has a rather relaxed style of parenting, which at times frustrated me, but his love for his kids was never in question.

We've had a rather unusual partnership as far as sharing parenting tasks. Since he got home from work about three hours before me, he usually cooked dinner. So our kids grew up thinking that cooking was a man's job. Fortunately, they both like to cook now. Cleaning is not something I like to do either, but somehow they both seem to be able to keep up with it better than me. I don't mind living with a mess, but he does. So now that the kids are all out of the house, I have a room for my glorious mess, and he has a room with absolutely nothing but his bed and dresser.

It will be interesting to see what kind of parenting style they inherit. He's not exactly TV material, but we know he loves his family, and we can't ask for much more.

So here’s a Happy Father’s Day to my unconventional hero.

Goals Update:

I haven't been able to write outdoors like I planned. Between the weather and my awful work schedule, outdoor writing didn't happen. But I did find a great website that challenges me to write 750 words a day. So far I've kept up for three days. We'll see how long that lasts!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Summertime Laziness

I’ve always been a procrastinator. I guess it’s normal to put off doing things you don’t really like to do, but lately it seems I’m having trouble getting ANYTHING done. And it’s not because I’ve been outdoors soaking up the sun. Actually, sunbathing would probably be more productive than what I’ve been wasting my time doing.

I have good intentions. Mom’s pants need shortening, and I have several sewing projects that need finishing. So I got my machine out. That’s as far as it got. I have hats that need bows on them, so I got out the ribbon. It’s still on the hutch. I have a story I want to finish, so I opened up my laptop – and played computer games.

So I have all these projects here, partially done. Why am I having so much trouble finishing what I’ve started?

I guess I could use my hectic schedule as an excuse. When I get home from an eight-hour shift, I’m pretty tired. And there are distractions. The television is on most of the time that my husband is awake. For him, it’s background noise. For me, it’s something to watch – and when I watch I’m not motivated to do anything else.

With the great weather we’ve had lately, I wondered what would happen if I took my work outside. We have a three-season porch, and there’s this nice glass-top table and comfy chairs where I can set up my sewing machine or my laptop. I can be outdoors, breathing in this fresh air while sewing or writing. I can still get online, if I get this “need” to play Scrabble, or Boggle, or Solitaire.

There are a couple of advantages to this. One is that I’m away from the television when I’m trying to write. Without the aural distraction, I can write more - hopefully. The second advantage is the kitchen is farther away, so it takes more of an effort to get something to munch on! And third, when I’m freezing because my husband’s thermostat makes him turn the air conditioning so low, I don’t have to bundle up in long pants and a sweater.

There are a few negatives. When the sun goes down, I can turn on the light, but it’s not a good light to work in, so I need to come back inside. Also, even if this idea works, I’ll have to make other arrangements when cold weather comes. I guess then I’ll have to make myself a “Girl Cave” like my friend Andrea.

I’m going to try setting up shop on the porch for a few weeks and see if my productivity goes up! Wish me luck.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Changing Faces

Things change. It’s a fact of life. Everyone knows it, and we expect it. Still, it seems when we leave a place and return later, we’re taken by surprise when we actually see the changes. This week I experienced that surprise twice. Both experiences involved schools in my life.

I heard through a former teacher that the elementary school I attended was closing down due to budget cuts in the district, and on Wednesday there was an open house for past and present students, parents, and staff. I picked up my mom and we went to the little building where I started my school life. The outside of the building looked the same, but the inside was so different. How did we ever operate without computers? A scrapbook in the gym had old newspaper clippings and PTA programs printed out on blue ink from the old “ditto” machine. The hallways were the same, but the classrooms had been updated. I saw a few familiar faces – more deeply lined, framed by hair much lighter than I remembered.

Yesterday I went to a retirement party for a former colleague at the school district where I spent 28 years as a teacher. The gathering took place in the administration building, which had been rebuilt since my time there. That was a change I expected. The boardroom was decorated to reflect the colorful, energetic personality of the kindergarten teacher who was now stepping down to pursue other interests. There were unfamiliar faces, which I also expected. After all, I’ve been retired five years, and people come and go. But it was surprising to see the number of faces I didn’t recognize.

What is it that makes us expect things to stay the same when we’re not there, when we’re able to accept change when it takes place in front of us? Some change is good – my friend will now have time to invest in his antiquing business, and at least one younger teacher will have her job because he’s leaving. Some change is sad – the kids who attended South Godwin Elementary will have to go to a different school in the fall. But they will cope, and continue to learn in a new place.

And I will continue to be surprised and amazed at the changes, both good and bad.